Wanting to do only the “creative work” is like wanting to have a baby, but not wanting to deal with the yucky throw up or poopy part, or deal with the baby when it cries endlessly for a number of unexplained reasons, or care for it because it is ill. You simply have no choice. It’s the same in having your own business, there is no choice if you want to see it grow and be healthy.
Most of us face disciplines at some point that are often uncomfortable, whether we work at home or in a designated space. I’m really referring to the discipline to focus on the part of the project or business we don’t want to.
The struggle and realities of facing real issues like keeping the books in order, or putting in the time to understand the processes, and all the while being our best creative selves is somewhat counter intuitive and demands attention.
There are a few key steps in building a business that get in the way of most creative people and I’ve hit all those walls along various stages of my journey, and I expect I’ll hit more. With practice, those walls get easier to climb however.
How do we face a large hurdle because we believe we cannot accomplish the learning of new things because it doesn’t interest us? My son is currently learning fractions and algebra – this is a comparative torture to me because I have the mindset of a dumbstruck school child when confronted with his math homework, and I have to spend some time working on this.
When I started my own business I really didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know a gross margin from a gross mistake. It took lessons and sage advice to understand this was the fundamental strategy to making a living as well as the path to smart manufacturing techniques in design.
Other enlightening and rather daunting tasks also had to be learned: most importantly – a business plan was not an automatic menu for success, but the map towards helping me focus on the goal of what I wanted. I learned it was a shape shifter too; an abstract tool that relied on the user and it was not always friendly.
Within it all I had to learn the process of things I didn’t want to: inventory, payroll, taxes, management, budgets, cash flow reports and computer programs like QuickBooks, Excel and Word, communication skills, marketing, press releases, product photography, licensing, negotiations, contracts and of course mandatory office cleanings and filing.
I knew that without these basic skills, I was going to be really reliant on others and I realized others didn’t own my business, I did. I wanted to learn to drive the tractor so at the very least I knew what the job entailed, and what I wanted to get out of the information it gave me so that I could improve and grow.
Therein lay the responsibility to myself to be on top of my game and to be honest about my weaknesses and shortfalls and the things I didn’t understand, so that I could reevaluate my knowledge and get the right help and advice when I needed it.
I realized that I might have talent in visual arts, but this wasn’t going to help me be a business person. Understanding my vulnerabilities helps focus the inspiration to find the discipline to learn what I need to be better at.
My brother Mark, a record producer with a recording studio in Glasgow, caught up with me the other day – we talked about our struggles through the journey of these parts of our business lives. He reminded me of the Sufi saying “a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step” and how he uses this in times of facing any difficult task he’s avoiding.
When a task is so daunting because our creative selves are looking to do anything but this, our minds form an underlying dread of discipline and organization and we become frozen to the point of not dealing with it. It’s a rabbit hole we can easily all fall into and it can be hard to climb out of.
Mark told me that on the day we spoke, he had specifically put on socks and shoes while working at home. It made him feel more organized than doing it in his old sandals and helped him focus on the task he was working on that he really didn’t want to do. Whatever it takes, we have to find tricks along the way to help us through what could be mundane and therefore torturous tasks.
Years ago, when I first faced this harsh reality of self-employment and it’s ebb and flow, I decided to teach myself some basic organizational skills. There were many things I needed to understand so that I could have a foundation to build my work and creative life.
When I was learning touch typing I pretended I was learning the piano. It made sense to me then and I found I could type much faster without looking at the keys – this resulted in learning to type as fast as I thought which has been a great tool. The only way I could find interest in book keeping in those earlier times was to treat it like a crossword puzzle.
I had to throw myself into the process as a creative task so that I could enjoy it and understand the results. Each element I learned stuck like glue and led me through to the next place. Now I admit I actually enjoy the financial structure processes and understanding P&L’s so that I can see problems happening in real time that can be improved upon.
Warning: “Real life business skill sets are vital to your health”. It’s a hard truth for us that like to think the creative part of our work is the most important, and compose images or record music or make beautiful things, rather than prepare, strategize and map our business plan for the next five years.
The process of learning seems the most poignant of all on the road to building a successful creative business, in any area. And hopefully, we don’t get stuck in the comfort zone of standing still, where we are afraid to reach out beyond the safety of our own worlds.
In times when the phone rings less, the emails slow down or you have just finished a project and have a break between the next, don’t sit around panicking about the slump. While you deal with the next project or improving your portfolio, get that learning hat on. It is challenging, its fun and I bet you’ll be quite surprised at yourself.
It’s one thing to be able to design great art, write great songs or have a great idea, but without the knowledge of how to follow through and implement the process, it’s a pretty limiting talent. Improving business skills is a vital tool to improving the quality of our work productivity and our creativity.
You’ll never say “I just want to do the creative work” quite in the same way again once you start this journey. Then you see it’s not about that great idea, but about the process of getting there, that every step of your journey has led you to a better and smarter place. It’s the foundation for your future and your success.